This is the part of the countdown that gets difficult. If you have followed to this point, the sixteen teams I have previewed are expected to be on the outside looking in- in regards to being postseason contenders. Of course, teams like the Indians (#21), Pirates (#22) and Braves (#15) all made the postseason last year and should be back in the mix. However, the next 4 teams I preview can all be used interchangeably with the top ten teams on the list (the top ten are all the 2014 playoff teams (in my opinion) with the next 4 just missing out). Number 14 was the Tampa Bay Rays.
I feel strongly that the Oakland Athletics had a very good off season. They signed free agent LHP Scott Kazmir (10-9, 4.04) from the Indians and moved OF Seth Smith to the Padres for RHP Luke Gregerson (6-8, 2.71 in 73 games). They traded for Orioles closer Jim Johnson (3-8, 50 saves, 2.94), giving up just Jemile Weeks in the process. They also added catcher OF Craig Gentry from the Rangers as infielder Nick Punto from the Dodgers. LHP Eric O'Flaherty was brought in on a two year deal and he is expected to return from Tommy John surgery by mid season. All that being said, the team was looking to build off its solid starting pitching last season. RHPs Sonny Gray (5-3, 2.67, 12 starts), AJ Griffin (14-10, 3.83, starts) and Jarrod Parker (12-8, 3.97, 32 starts) were expected to anchor the rotation. Unfortunately, the team lost Parker to TJ and Griffin could be out through May.
Based off his strong postseason debut, Gray lands the job as the number one starter. Kazmir will back him up for now, with LHP Tommy Milone (12-9, 4.14 in 26 starts) and Dan Straily (10-8, 3.96, 27 starts) likely to be the 3rd and 4th starters. Interestingly enough, the team will use reliever Jesse Chavez, who has started just 2 of his 191 career MLB games, as a starting pitcher this season. This is until Griffin is back in the mix. RHP Drew Pomeranz should have an impact at some point in the rotation this year.
Johnson and Gregerson will lead what I feel is a very deep bullpen. Holdovers Ryan Cook (6-4, 2.54 in 71 games) and Sean Doolittle (5-5, 3.13, 70 games) will join Dan Otero, who was also solid for the Athletics last season (2-0, 1.38 in 33 games). O'Flaherty deepens the pen even more. I do think Johnson is overrated because of the save stat, but you cannot deny there is enough depth for this to be one of the games top bullpens.
The Athletics best offensive player is 3B Josh Donaldson (.301, 24, 93) though he is only making $500,000 in 2014. Off of 2013, 1B Brandon Moss (.256, 30, 87), Yoenis Cespedes (.240, 26, 80) and CF Coco Crisp (.261, 22, 66, 21 SB) are expected to be the face of the lineup. I strongly believe RF Josh Reddick (.226, 12, 56 in 114 games) will be closer to his 2012 version (.242, 32, 85) and once again be the focal point of the offense. Catchers Derrick Norris (.246, 9, 30) and John Jaso (.271, 3, 21) will both catch and DH, with Darric Barton sliding over to 1B when Moss takes the role of only hitting. SS Jed Lowrie (.290, 15, 75) has drawn attention as one of the top shortstops in the AL. 2B Eric Sogard is mentioned last for a reason. He is the least important and most expendable member of the projected starting lineup. Punto and Alberto Callaspo will earn some time at the position. Yet, the delusional fan base of major league baseball nearly selected him as the "Face of MLB". Gentry and Sam Fuld add to the depth of the OF, with catcher Stephen Vogt also likely to make the team.
I have come around to the fact that the Athletics are a good baseball team. Though GM Billy Beane has a philosophy that I do not want to root for, I do admit it has worked over the past two plus seasons. Initially, I saw the A's as a playoff team again, but the loss of Parker and Griffin will make it tough to duplicate 96 wins. That would have been a tall order even returning the team at full strength. To me, that is the difference in the team being in the playoffs and on the outside looking in. Vegas set the bar a little lower at 88.5, and I predict a little lower than that, at 84-78, 3rd place in the AL West.